Ranking the Detroit Lions' Best Remaining Free Agent Options

Dean HoldenAnalyst IMarch 20, 2013

Ranking the Detroit Lions' Best Remaining Free Agent Options

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    It has been a whirlwind of a first week of free agency for the Detroit Lions.

    Reggie Bush, Glover Quin and Jason Jones joined the team, while Gosder Cherilus, Cliff Avril and Sammie Lee Hill left for new opportunities. Meanwhile, Louis Delmas, Chris Houston and DeAndre Levy all opted to extend their careers in Detroit.

    And that was all in about half a week. The funny thing is, the period known as "free agency" actually runs for about another six months. We're just getting started, and while most of the biggest names may be off the market, there is still plenty of impact to be had.

    That said, the Lions have most likely spent through most of their freed cap space. Unless the front office is nearing an extension with Matthew Stafford, the Lions are most likely done handing out four and five-year deals to free agents.

    Now they're looking for role players and veterans who can fill shorter-term contracts, providing depth and stability.

    Of course, the Lions will still look for players who can make an impact, they'll just be a little stingier when it comes to negotiating terms.

    Still, don't be surprised if the Lions have their eyes on some of these players.

Their Own

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    This isn't technically part of the "ranking," but the Lions still have some free agents that they're most likely looking to get back under contract.

    Jason Hanson, Justin Durant and Lawrence Jackson all played huge roles with the Lions last season, and at press time, all of them remain unsigned.

    Jackson is of particular importance, since he represents depth (or a potential starter?) at a position that currently has almost nothing at all in place.

    Durant started for the Lions last season, but was a liability when asked to cover. Still, he was a steady starter who makes sense. However, with every passing day, it seems more like the Lions are looking to plug one of their young players (Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis) in as starter.

    Finally, we have the timeless Jason Hanson, who is looking to have more seasons in the NFL (22) than Luke Joeckel has years on this planet (21). Despite his ranking at No. 12 among all kickers in the B/R 1000, Hanson will turn 43 by the beginning of next season, and his kickoff power isn't what it once was.

    Regardless, Hanson still gets it done with three points on the line, and he should be a priority for the Lions moving forward.

5. Israel Idonije, DE

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    Lions fans should be familiar with Israel Idonije. He's been chasing after Lions quarterbacks for nine years as a Chicago Bear, and he even came up with a strip-sack of Matthew Stafford in what currently appears to be his last game as a Bear.

    At 6' 6" and about 275 pounds, the 32-year-old Idonije isn't right for every scheme. He has been a regular starter for the Bears over the last three years, and those have, unsurprisingly, been his three most productive years as a pro. Those would be the years Julius Peppers played across the line from him.

    Still, the fact that Idonije is still on the market would seem to indicate that teams aren't crawling over each other to throw money at him. The Lions don't have the money to sign any premier pass-rushers (there weren't any in this free-agent class, anyway), but bringing on a guy like Idonije for depth wouldn't be a bad idea at all.

    Consider: Idonije had 13 more tackles, two fewer sacks and one fewer forced fumble than Avril in 2012—and he only started 11 games. Just something to think about.

4. Sedrick Ellis, DT

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    In his first 39 games as a pro (2008-2010), Sedrick Ellis notched 12 sacks from the defensive tackle position.

    In his last 31 games (2011-2012), Ellis has a half-sack. That's one half of one sack. Now, it's no secret that sacks are an inaccurate and overrated method of determining defensive line production, but it's obvious that Ellis has taken a couple steps back in recent years.

    Is that because of Ellis himself or the New Orleans Saints scheme and the defense circling the drain every year?

    It's impossible to say, but Ellis is only 27, is an ideal 3-technique and could find himself thriving in a rotational role with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

    The Lions appear to be just fine with a pair of first-round picks manning the interior of the defensive line, but the loss of Sammie Lee Hill to the Titans leaves the team with effectively no depth. The Lions were working with a scheme that allowed them to use their defensive tackles almost interchangeably, and bringing Ellis on board would let them continue.

3. Domenik Hixon, WR

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    One of the very first things the Lions did in free agency was extend a contract offer to receiver Domenik Hixon, formerly of the New York Giants.

    According to Mike Garafolo of the USA Today, Hixon tabled the offer.

    Giants WR Domenik Hixon received an offer from the Lions but has tabled it for now. Looking for a better opportunity.

    — Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) March 12, 2013

    No surprise for a young receiver on the first day of free agency. Most likely, the Lions low-balled him on the offer and Hixon decided to wait on a better offer.

    That said, it has been about a week since then, and there have been no rumblings about another team interested in Hixon. It is unclear whether Hixon's initial objection to playing in Detroit was the offer itself or something more personal about the scheme or personnel.

    But unless negotiations are happening very quietly somewhere, Hixon ought to be coming around to the realization that he isn't commanding the kind of attention his agent might have suggested he would.

    Assuming the Lions haven't pulled the offer off the table (and since they haven't signed a WR anywhere, it's unlikely they have), Hixon might reconsider the Lions' initial offer as a preferable alternative to not playing next season.

2. Antoine Winfield, CB

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    Antoine Winfield has never exactly been a household name, but he has been a very good player for a very long time.

    At age 35, Winfield isn't a long-term answer to anything the Lions are dealing with in the secondary, but he does make some sense.

    The Lions always like to have a veteran in the fold for each position group, especially ones with lots of young players. Chris Houston, a six-year veteran, technically fits the bill, but not like Winfield does. Winfield has in the league for 14 years, he's been an All-Pro, a Pro Bowler and he's played in the NFC North for most of the last decade.

    Those are credentials that command a lot of respect, and they make Winfield an ideal mentoring candidate. Of course, the man can still play football. He was a salary cap casualty in Minnesota, but he's 35 years old and shouldn't be looking for anything more than a deal of one or maybe two more years.

    At the right price (a big "if" that should be attached to any and all free agents), Winfield could be an ideal stopgap CB, perfect for the Lions to wait for their second-year players to develop into more consistent players.

1. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Mohamed Massaquoi (Tie)

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    When teams play the Detroit Lions, their entire defense has a single goal: Stop Calvin Johnson.

    They roll coverages to Johnson's side, they try to pressure the quarterback to make it harder to find Johnson, they double-team him in the red zone and triple-team him other times.

    Theoretically, this should make Detroit a dream destination for a free agent wide receiver. Look at it from their point of view: They're basically guaranteed single coverage all the time, and Lions just set an NFL record for passes thrown in a season.

    It sounds too good to be true, especially with a strong-armed quarterback like Matthew Stafford slinging it all over the field.

    I couldn't decide between Darrius Heyward-Bey and Mohamed Massaquoi as the best option to take advantage of this situation, so I decided on both.

    Heyward-Bey is the less-likely option, as his raw physical skill makes him more attractive on the open market (read: too expensive), but Massaquoi played with Stafford at Georgia and is the more polished player in terms of route-running and technique.

    Realistically, though, the two come from similar circumstances. They're both talented, physical receivers in their mid-20s who suffered playing in anemic offenses with incompetent quarterbacks. A change of scenery could be all either one needs to become a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver.